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© Ugur Akinci
I forgot the number of times I’ve emphasized the importance of clarity and accuracy in technical documentation in this blog and the dire consequences that can arise from such errors. To my online course students that’s something I make clear right away: a technical document must be correct and accurate above anything else. That’s the ultimate pass-fail test for all information systems, as far as I’m concerned. Who cares if a proposal or document has a great cover or a lovely choice of fonts if the information in it is not correct or up to specs (and thus not acceptable by the client)?
Santa Clara, CA has learned that lesson the hard way when it submitted a ballot proposal to renew $548 million worth of tax to maintain the Northern California city’s water supply, provide flood protection and reduce toxins in waterways. The summary of the proposal submitted had 77 words, two words over the limit. In other words, someone did not pay full attention to the “document specs” that specified the length of proposal summaries. The mistake was corrected but not soon enough. Due to that “simple error” the city is now facing a loss of $548 million in tax revenues.
The case will probably be fought out in court, no doubt. The chairwoman of the water district board has understandably tried to put the best possible spin on the mishap by saying it wasn’t a big deal since “it was a minor technicality.” As a technical communicator I disagree respectfully. Sometimes such “a minor technicality” is all it takes to ruin a perfectly good project. See how NASA lost $125 million Mars orbiter due to a similar “minor technicality” in documentation.
Click here for the full Santa Clara story.
(Image courtesy of Yahoo! News, Inc.)